Whisky review: Chief’s Son single malt whisky

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On tasting: Chief’s Son 900 Standard 45% and 60%, Chief’s Son Pure Malt, and the two Sweet Peat bottlings at 45% and 60%

I first visited Chief’s Son Distillery in July 2019, not long after their original whisky release. It’s an intriguing set-up, tucked away in an industrial site in Somerville, Mornington Peninsula, about an hour south of Melbourne. There’s a growing number of distilleries in the area, with JimmyRum and Bass & Flinders 20 minutes down the road, but Chief’s Son is Mornington’s main whisky producer (for the moment, there’s more coming).

The distillery was founded by Stuart and Naomi McIntosh, who’d both worked across a number of different business areas before constructing Chief’s Son in 2015-16 (check out our distillery profile for the full story). There are a lot of references to Scotland and McIntosh heritage woven into the Chief’s Son story, but it’s their whiskies I’m most fascinated by.

The first Chief’s Son single malts I tried were between three and four years old, and I was surprised by how varied the core range was. Instead of sticking with one style of spirit and changing casks for variety, Stuart and Naomi have created distinct spirit profiles within the core range that are built on different malts, peat levels and distillation techniques.

It’ll be interesting to see how this develops over time, as it can be a little confusing to remember what the numbers and names on each bottling signify, but it does make for fascinating drinking. Seppeltsfield fortified wine casks are the main constant – quite traditional, really, considering how experimental they’ve gone with their distillates. But an ex-Bourbon cask whisky has also been released, along with a stout and porter cask finish, and we’ve heard other wine cask whiskies might be on the cards in future.

Once the teething period’s through, I’m sure we’ll start to see more clarity and consistency, and I also think the whiskies will continue to improve with more time in barrel. So plenty to look forward to, because there’s already serious complexity and depth to chew on here.

 

  • Chief’s Son 900 Standard (Release 2 'Holden')
    The Stats
    • ABV: 45%
    • Price Band: $ $ $ $ $
    • Style: Single malt whisky
    • Production Story: Wash from Mornington Peninsula Brewery, portions of which contain specialty malts, and Scottish peated malt is also added. Distilled at Chief's Son and matured for a minimum of three years in ex-Seppeltsfield fortified wine casks.
    • Location: Somerville, VIC
    • Score: 81
    Nose
    Tobacco, dried oregano, cooked parsnip, beef drippings, leather and earthy root vegetables. A bit youthful, which brings out eucalyptus and cassia bark, but there's also a fine layer of vanilla, coffee and creme brulee once it opens up, and the sugary wine notes from the cask come through.
    Palate
    Bouquet garni, grass, turnip, caramalised sugars and bitter dark chocolate. Almost a burnt flavour similar to the roasted malt character you find in some stouts.
    Finish
    Dried berries and orange wheels, chocolate malt and fun flashes of amber and brown ales.
    Comments
    A whisky to enjoy with a cigar.
  • Chief’s Son 900 Standard 60% (Release 4 'Simpson')
    The Stats
    • ABV: 60%
    • Price Band: $ $ $ $ $
    • Style: Single malt whisky
    • Production Story: Wash from Mornington Peninsula Brewery, portions of which contain specialty malts, and Scottish peated malt is also added. Distilled at Chief's Son and matured for a minimum of three years in ex-Seppeltsfield fortified wine casks.
    • Location: Somerville, VIC
    • Score: 88
    Nose
    Bright on the nose, fresh hay, cranberry, milk chocolate, oris root, raw ginger, ginseng, star anise.
    Palate
    An explosion of cassia bark, chewed liquorice root and oris root then develops into ginger nut biscuits, warm orange rye bread, berry sugar drops and rum babba.
    Finish
    More sugars, golden rum, brioche and jaffa cakes.
    Comments
    One for the cask strength drinker. Incredibly well balanced. This whisky takes you on a journey through Chinatown to the hard candy factory. A real delight. A drop of water accentuates the bitter ginseng so I recommend sticking to its original strength if you can.
  • Chief’s Son Pure Malt (Release 4 'Barrel 91')
    The Stats
    • ABV: 45%
    • Price Band: $ $ $ $ $
    • Style: Single malt whisky
    • Production Story: Name is a little confusing, as this is a single malt and no reference is intended to the old 'pure malt' term you used to find in Japan and Scotland. Wash produced at Mornington Peninsula Brewery, but it differs from the rest of the range by swapping out the peated malt for dark malts. The distillate is the other main difference. Fores and feints from previous runs aren't added to the low wines for the second 'Pure Malt' distillation – one of the only distilleries in the world to do this.
    • Location: Somverville, VIC
    • Score: 79
    Nose
    Maple-roasted parsnips, crème caramel, home-made dulce de leche, melted butter, lanolin, vanilla slice and a waft of sheep whey.
    Palate
    Much lighter and cleaner here, with rich caramels, lemon scented oil and a hint of soap.
    Finish
    A wave of sugars returns on the finish – and is that green frogs?
    Comments
    I could smell this glass for days. The hint of ferment described by one of my colleagues at the distillery as sauerkraut (I get sheep whey) adds a complex dimension to this. Layer that with caramels and butter and oh my. The only whisky I know of that completely cuts out all fores and feints during distillation, filling only the hearts of the run into cask, and I’d guess this is why the whisky is so clean. I'd like to revisit this after another 4-5 years in cask.
  • Chief’s Son 900 Sweet Peat (Release 4 'Barrel 92')
    The Stats
    • ABV: 45%
    • Price Band: $ $ $ $ $
    • Style: Single malt whisky
    • Production Story: Wash from Mornington Peninsula Brewery, with a higher proportion of Scottish peated malt added for the 'Sweet Peat'. Distilled at Chief's Son and matured for a minimum of three years in ex-Seppeltsfield fortified wine casks.
    • Location: Somerville, VIC
    • Score: 88
    Nose
    Crème caramels, melted butter, eucalypt, beachside campfire, mint leaves and fresh hospital gloves. That sheep whey is back, farmhouse and fermented green melon.
    Palate
    Prickly and dry, reminds me of an autumn afternoon on the farm. Dry hay and earth, campfire ash – takes me back to sitting by the fireplace in Scotland.
    Finish
    Long and lingering with flavours continuing on from the palate. Beautiful length.
    Comments
    A complex comfort whisky that I intend to share with dad by the fire, and I recommend you do the same, as soon as these restrictions lift!
  • Chief’s Son 900 Sweet Peat 60% (Release 4 'Barrel 92')
    The Stats
    • ABV: 60%
    • Price Band: $ $ $ $ $
    • Style: Single malt whisky
    • Production Story: Wash from Mornington Peninsula Brewery, with a higher proportion of Scottish peated malt added for the 'Sweet Peat'. Distilled at Chief's Son and matured for a minimum of three years in ex-Seppeltsfield fortified wine casks.
    • Location: Somerville, VIC
    • Score: 86
    Nose
    Red wine jus, red frogs, guava, smoky beef stew – the peat is much more subtle at this higher abv.
    Palate
    Goats cheese, vanilla custard and tropical fruits. A wave of heat momentarily paralyses the palate before the fruit and peat return.
    Finish
    Guava, melon, woodfire smoke.
    Comments
    For those who regularly drink cask strength whisky and don't mind the heat. Fun flavours that could be showcased more by lowering the abv a little – but where’s the fun in that!
Brooke Hayman
Brooke Hayman is the co-owner and business director of Melbourne’s Whisky & Alement. She’s also a judge at the Royal Australian Spirits Awards, the Tasting Australia Spirits Awards, and is currently the Australian Malt Whisky Tasting Champion after winning the 2018 competition.